A priest in the Old Testament and various other Jewish, Christian, and Gnostic sources, who is sometimes regarded as a prefigure of Christ. A fragmentary codex in the NAG HAMMADI LIBRARY (IX. 1-27.10) is given the title Melchizedek, which suggests that the supposed author is none other than the biblical figure. This tractate may be described as a Gnostic apocalypse, or book of revelation, and in fact its contents are designated as “these revelations” (27. 3-4). In addition to the title itself, the opening words of the tractate refer to “Jesus Christ, the Son [of God]” (1. 2-3) and establish the text as unmistakably Christian.
Typical of apocalyptic literature, revelations predominate in Melchizedek. Initially an interpreting angel, probably Gamaliel, informs Melchizedek of Gnostic truths having to do with the salvation of “the congregation of [the children of] Seth” (IX. 5. 19-20). Most remarkable in this revelation is the polemical passage directed against those Docetists who deny the reality of the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus: “They will say of him that he is unbegotten although he has been begotten, he doesn’t eat even though he does eat, he doesn’t drink even though he does drink, he is uncircumcised although he has been circumcised, he is unfleshly although he did come in flesh, he didn’t come into suffering [although] he did come into suffering, he didn’t rise from the dead [although] he did rise from the dead” (IX. 5. 2-10). This first revelation comes to a close with the angel warning Melchizedek not to disclose the secrets to the profane.
In the next section of the tractate Melchizedek in the first person singular responds to the revelation by participating in prayer, baptism, and liturgical praise and confession. Then another major revelation is recounted from approximately folio 19 to the end of the tractate. Unfortunately, little remains of the text of these last pages. Several heavenly messengers seem to communicate knowledge to Melchizedek and exhort him to be strong. Finally after another warning to keep these “unfleshly revelations” from fleshly persons, the text concludes with the angelic “brothers” ascending back to heaven.
The person of Melchizedek is portrayed in the tractate as the ancient hero, “the priest of God Most High” (IX. 12. 10-11; IX. 15. 9-10; IX. 19. 14-15; cf. Gn. 14:18). Furthermore, in Jewish apocalyptic literature (cf. 11 Q Melch) this priestly figure has a future eschatological role as well and may function as a holy warrior and heavenly commander. In the Coptic tractate Melchizedek is not only a heavenly warrior but is also identified with Jesus Christ, as he is in the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews. Thus Melchizedek, like Christ, struggles through suffering and death against his enemies and ultimately prevails over them and destroys them (IX. 26. 2ff.).
- Facsimile Edition of the Nag Hammadi Codices: Codices IX and X. Leiden, 1977.
- Pearson, B. A. “The Figure of Melchizedek in the First Tractate of the Unpublished Coptic-Gnostic Codex IX from Nag Hammadi.” In Proceedings of the XIIth International Congress of the International Association for the History of Religions, ed. C. J. Bleeker, et al., pp. 200-208. Leiden, 1975.
- . ed. “IX,1: Melchizedek.” In Nag Hammadi Codices IX and 15. Nag Hammadi Studies 15. Leiden, 1980.
- Pearson, B. A., and S. Giversen. “Melchizedek (IX, 1).” In The Nag Hammadi Library in English. Leiden and San Francisco, 1977.
MARVIN W. MEYER